Imagine taking out a camera from your pocket and using it to take pictures of the moon, planets, stars, the Milky Way. You can soon do so with the world's smallest astronomy camera, and it's made in Singapore.
It is the brainchild of National University of Singapore (NUS) graduates Ashprit Singh, 23, Grey Tan, 26, and student Chia Lih Wei, 26.
Mr Tan, a professional photographer and a New Media graduate, found out how complex astrophotography was when he went on an astronomy trip to Mersing, Malaysia, as part of an elective Physics module - Sky And Telescope - that he did.
Though he and Mr Singh did not know each other then, they got acquainted shortly afterwards at an elective module they both took up - New Product Development - where they had to conceptualise, design and develop a new product. Mr Singh said they were brainstorming ideas for the product when Mr Tan told him about his experience during the trip and how complex astrophotography is.
"You will need to know both astronomy and photography and lug around expensive equipment. Currently, it's limited to researchers and enthusiasts who have their $10,000 telescope and scientific cameras, which are hard to use," said Mr Singh, who moved to Singapore from Mumbai to do his degree in engineering (mechanical).
The duo thought "there should be an easy way for anyone to do astrophotography" and so the idea for a camera called Tiny1 was born. They presented the idea of a point-and-shoot camera designed to make astronomy imaging easy from planning, capturing and processing to sharing on social media. It impressed one of their professors so much that he was willing to invest some money to see the idea come to life.
Both Mr Tan and Mr Singh felt the camera would appeal to the masses so they formed TinyMOS in April 2014.
Mr Tan, the company's chief operating officer, also pulled in his friend Mr Chia, an electronics and engineering student at NUS to be TinyMOS' chief technical officer.
The trio have since been working together out of their office at the National Design Centre to perfect the camera from the design to the software and hardware.
Along with their professor, the founders pooled $10,000 from their savings to get the company started.
They spent the first two years developing the product, finding the right parts and suppliers and raising money to survive.
Said Mr Singh, TinyMOS' chief operating officer: "We've seen campaigns which promise a lot but are unable to deliver. We took two years to make sure we are building a product of value and then launch the camera only when we were sure that it could perform perfectly to the specs we promise."
On June 6, the founders launched the camera via a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, an international crowdfunding website.
They hit their goal of US$100,000 in just four hours after the launch. They have since received 900 pre-orders for Tiny1 and the camera is in the final stages of development now.
Though the campaign is over, those interested can still get it on the Indiegogo website at a pre-order price of US$449. It will cost US$599 when it goes out to the market early next year.
Mr Singh explained that the aim of doing a crowdfunding campaign was to grow the community and support the manufacturing cost.
The start-up has sourced parts of the camera from various countries such as Germany, China and India. The team will assemble and test it in Singapore before shipping it.
"For a hardware company, the upfront cost is very high so buying the parts and talking to manufacturers are very expensive. We fund part of this through crowdfunding and it's also a way to prove that there is a market for the product before we pump in all the money to manufacture it," said Mr Singh.
And it definitely generated a positive response. "These people have spent money to back our product without touching it or seeing it in person," added Mr Singh.
Apart from funds from the campaign, the team has also received $200,000 from angel investors in Singapore and a $250,000 grant from Spring Singapore.
Tiny1 can capture still images, 2.5K HD video, and time-lapses of the night sky with a 4 megapixel sensor. It also has built-in Wi-Fi, which allows you to transfer the images to smartphones or laptops.
Those who have an Android phone can see how the camera will function by downloading a demo of the TinyMOS software from the Google Play store, which shows some of the augmented reality software features of the camera.
Newbies to astronomy will find it helpful to know where to point the camera in the night sky if they want to capture a particular planet or constellation.
The camera also has presets to capture different things with proper exposures, making the experience of astrophotography fuss-free. With its interchangeable lens system, it can also be used for shooting other images.
While building several prototypes over the past two years, the start-up has been in touch with the NUS Astronomical Society and Astronomical Society of Singapore to test the camera and get feedback.
"Our aim is to be the GoPro (action camera) for stars. We hope to direct the company in that direction and become a global consumer electronics camera company, which would be the first of its kind in Singapore," said Mr Singh.
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